A Conversation for Belief
easyjacksn Started conversation Dec 1, 2003
It's interesting to note that the definition of the word "delusion" is found within the definition of the word "belief"...
belief: to be convinced of something that hasn't been or can't be proven
delusion: to be convinced of something that isn't true
If one is convinced of something, then they claim to possess some knowledge that what they are convinced of is true. However, by definition in order to believe something, one must NOT possess such knowledge. Therefore, they are convinced that they possess such knowledge when in reality they don't. That is a delusion. It follows that any belief is, by definition, a delusion.
RFJS__ - trying to write an unreadable book, finding proofreading tricky Posted Dec 8, 2003
This assumes that 'belief' occurs only when the object thereof is uncertain; if it were certain, presumably it would be held to be an object of 'knowledge' rather than belief. However, epistemologists tend to hold that to believe something is part and parcel of knowing it. Otherwise you end up with something like this:
It has been proven that 2 + 2 = 4;
I know that 2 + 2 = 4;
Therefore I do not believe that 2 + 2 = 4.
(Incidentally, there is an ongoing argument about whether to express a Moorean sentence -- one along the lines of, 'It is raining, but I don't believe it is' -- is to express a contradiction.)
RFJS__ - trying to write an unreadable book, finding proofreading tricky Posted Dec 8, 2003
Come to think of it, are we discussing 'belief in' or 'belief that'? How about 'knowledge of' and 'knowledge that'?
You need to believe *that* something is the case in order to *know* that it is the case. However, you *can* believe *in* something without *knowing* of it or that anything about it is the case (since belief can be mistaken, but knowledge can only be of what is the case).
So at the risk of confirming the traditional stereotype about philosophers, it depends on what you mean by 'belief'.
RFJS__ - trying to write an unreadable book, finding proofreading tricky Posted Dec 8, 2003
Of course, 'belief that' can equally well be mistaken. So knowledge entails/presupposes belief, but not the other way around.
Except insofar as, if you believe something, you presumably know that you believe it. (Perhaps there's a companion sentence form for the Moorean sentence: the 'I believe this, but I don't know that I do' form. Or even the 'This is the case, but I don't know that it is' form -- which, since knowledge entails belief, by implication contains, as it were, the Moorean sentence form!)
easyjacksn Posted Dec 23, 2003
You are correct in saying that if I "know" 2 + 2 = 4, then I do not "believe" it. Belief, at that point, doesn't enter into it. It becomes a fact, something which cannot, by definition, be believed in. Belief is only applicable in the absence of facts.
easyjacksn Posted Dec 23, 2003
As to your other statements/questions, you seem to assume that in order to "know" something, you must first "believe" it. This makes no sense as the two are mutually exclusive. You CANNOT both "know" something and "belive" it as well. Also, your point about confusing the terms "believing in" and "believing that" is nothing more than semantics. The two uses of the word "believe" you used in your example are simply homonyms. They are not used in the same way, nor do they have the same definitions. In one case, you are claiming to "be convinced of something that can't be or hasn't been proven"; in the other, you are using the word "believe" in place of the phrase "I think" or "I suppose". These are two very different uses of the word.
easyjacksn Posted Dec 23, 2003
One more thing...Moorean statements in this context usually refer to a person's contradiction of opposing views of something they "know" versus what they "accept"(a form of denial), your example, "'It is raining, but I don't believe it is'" is clearly a contradiction in and of itself. It is simply an example of self-admitted delusion. The person making this claim is telling us in no uncertain terms that they are incapable of coming to grips with the reality of the situation. Part of them "knows" that it is raining, another part refuses to accept that fact presumably because they don't have the emotional capacity to do so(or perhaps they were simply brainwashed ). Not all thought processes can be explained in some sort of philisophical way--some are simply insane. To bring this around to the beginning, the proper way to make this statement without being self-contradictory is:
"I know it is raining, AND I don't believe it is"
easyjacksn Posted Dec 23, 2003
To make my point very clear with an example everyone can relate to:
If science proves the existence of God, then all belief of God would cease as the proof of God's existence would make it a fact.
RFJS__ - trying to write an unreadable book, finding proofreading tricky Posted Jan 18, 2004
I know that 2 + 2 = 4. So, if what is known is not believed:
"Do you believe that 2 + 2 = 4?"
Your usage of the word 'belief' seems, as the above suggests, to be an unconventional one. Standard usage includes 'justified' belief; if it did not, you would not believe that h2g2 exists, since you know that it does; yet you are posting to something in the existence of which you apparently do not believe!
The reference to God suggests that what you term 'belief' is what is conventionally termed 'faith' (belief in the absence of justification).
Oh, and when you use words, particularly to discuss the use of words, semantics can be important.
easyjacksn Posted Jan 20, 2004
A single word can, and often does (especially in English), have multiple meanings. Your entire argument is based on an entirely different usage than the one in my argument. Yes, the word I'm discussing here is in regards to "faith". When one makes the statement, "I believe in God" one is referring to their faith in God's existence. The usage in this example has absolutely NOTHING to do with any other usage of the word. It is essentially a different word spelled the same way. Many of your examples simply do not apply to what I am saying.
The reason people misuse the word "belief" is beacuse of their ignorance. Please don't take offense at this RFJS__, I'm not referring to you. I'm speaking historically. Throughout history, people have had dificulty discriminating between belief and truth. Generally, people hold their beliefs to be truths. This is, of course, absurd as a person's belief has no impact whatsoever on the truth of any given situation; Unless that person happens to be omnipotent(in which case their thoughts would directly alter reality). Since this is not usually the case, belief has no relevance to what is true. IF God exists, God exists whether I believe in God or not. If God doesn't exist, God doesn't exist whether I belive in God or not.
However, it seems that most people do not understand this very basic idea. Because of this, it has become commonplace to use the word "belief" as a statement of knowledge. In other words, if a police officer were to ask a witness, "Was the perpetrator a caucasian male?" and the witness were to respond, "Yes, I believe so." the usage of the word "believe" in this example would be an entirely acceptable one in today's English, yet would still be inaccurate. The literal core meaning of the word belief, as I stated in my original post, is to be convinced of something that hasn't been proven. NOT to "know" something, not to "suppose" something, not to "guess" something, etc. Used in any other way, the word "belief" loses its meaning.
If I were to make the seemingly rediculous statement, "I do not believe h2g2 exists" in a post on this website, I might be taken for a fool by most people, but I would be entirely accurate since I DON'T belive h2g2 exists...I KNOW it does.
easyjacksn Posted Jan 20, 2004
While I am enjoying this discussion, RFJS__, it seems like your disagreement has more to do with vocabulary than logic. If I were to alter my original idea to reference "faith" rather than "belief" would that possibly make you more agreeable to this concept?
RFJS__ - trying to write an unreadable book, finding proofreading tricky Posted Jan 20, 2004
It wouldn't make me agree that faith=delusion, but it would stop my discussing the use of a word which you have seemingly contrived to use in a way quite distinct from both common usage and standard philosophical usage. Which makes this an argument that has generated considerably more heat than light. Still...
It is not absurd to hold one's belief to be true; that is what is entailed by the meaning of the verb 'to believe'. (Hence the Moorean sentence: 'x, but I don't believe x.') If y believes x, y holds x to be true. You are quite correct when you note that this has no effect on whether x actually is true, and that it is incorrect to assume that something can become true because one believes it; but it can be the case that y holds x to be true _and_ x is true (and that something else is the case, if necessary). If y _knows_ x, then x must be true, since otherwise y would be mistaken in thinking x (and this would be a mistaken belief, irrespective of whether or not y thought it was knowledge).
If y holds x to be true, but x is in fact false, then y believes x but does not know x (in spite of the fact that y thinks that he or she knows x). Now, many philosophers hold that it is not the case that if y believes x, and x is true, then y necessarily knows x. (Please see
for more information.) However, most would agree that, for y to know x, it must be the case that x is true _and_ it must be the case that y holds x to be true, since one cannot know something without holding it to be true. (One can hold a proposition to be true or false, or be uncertain about it: 'It is true that h2g2 exists'; 'It is false that h2g2 exists'; 'I am not certain whether h2g2 exists'. Only the first statement is consistent with the affirmation, 'h2g2 exists'; the second leads to a straightforward contradiction, and the third entails the speaker's not having knowledge that h2g2 exists, since uncertainty entails an absence of knowledge.) One who believes something holds it to be true; knowledge entails holding something to be true; therefore knowledge entails belief in a sense of the word which you can actually use without having to explain yourself.
You are correct, however, in asserting that usage of the word sometimes lacks the precision of both the above argument and your own. I should like to observe, on the other hand, that you have produced a remarkably eloquent h2g2 posting for someone who does not believe that h2g2 exists, and that I have encountered few theists who believe that God exists because they believe he does.
easyjacksn Posted Jan 21, 2004
I apologize for the confusion. I think I could have worded my point about people holding their beliefs to be truths slightly better. Obviously people hold their beliefs to be true. That is what "to believe" means. The point I was trying to make was that people usually don't realize that if their belief is the only evidence that their belief is true, then there is no evidence that their belief is true and, therefore, shouldn't be believed. This is the absurdity I was speaking of. The usual lack of awareness of the irrelevance of belief to what is actually true.
I understand your point about knowledge entailing belief, I simply don't agree with it. Saying, "One who believes something holds it to be true; knowledge entails holding something to be true; therefore knowledge entails belief in a sense of the word which you can actually use without having to explain yourself." is completely accurate. However, I'm not particularly concerned (as far as this discussion goes) with using a form of the word "belief" in a way that will make my life easier; or that most people (philosophers included) will readily accept. What I am concerned with is using it accurately to explain a contradiction I see within its own meaning. I simply don't see the logic in saying that because knowledge and belief both entail holding something to be true, that belief is required for knowledge. That line of logic would also, just as readily, require knowledge for belief. This argument would only be logically sound if the definition of the word "belief" was simply, "to hold something to be true". I think that is one definition we can both agree is not accurate. Belief is one way to hold something to be true, and knowledge is another way to hold something to be true. If knowledge is based on fact, and belief is based on faith, it seems unbelievably obvious that the two are mutually exclusive. How can one believe in something that one also knows is fact? One cannot. Just as one cannot know something that one also has faith in. Would it be accurate for a physicist to say, "I believe that the speed of light in a vacuum is 300,000 km/sec."? No. Because it IS 300,000 km/sec. He KNOWS this. He does not believe it.
Let me go back to my previous example of science proving the existence of God. Hypothetically, God's existence has been proven. Now, a friend comes up to you and you say, "Did you hear the news? They proved the existence of God!" Your friend replies, "I heard. But I'm not going to let that shake my faith. I still believe in him." You would likely look at him for a few hard seconds, then ask him if he's had a few too many. This imaginary conversation not only illustrates my point, it gives quite a good example of my understanding of the word "believe" as it pertains to my argument and how contradictory people's understanding of the word "believe" is. Virtually anyone would think your hypothetical friend's response to be, at best, a little strange even though they, themselves, have probably used the phrase "I believe" to mean "I think" or even "I know".
I must admit, though, that someone believing in something that also happens to be true hadn't occurred to me. If science does prove the existence of God, does that negate all of the belief in God up to that point? No. It was belief before God's hypothetical verification. Is it, therefore, possible to believe in something that is true? Yes. But ONLY if the believer has no knowledge of its truth. Still we have the separation of knowledge and belief.
By the way, it did take an astounding amount of effort and concentration on my part to type these posts on a keyboard that I don't believe exists, post them, as you say, on a website which I don't believe exists, and doing all of it with a body that is terribly bruised and battered from walking into very hard walls that I don't believe exist....................although I may be having a crisis-of-lack-of-faith about that last bit...
RFJS__ - trying to write an unreadable book, finding proofreading tricky Posted Jan 21, 2004
It isn't the case that if knowledge entails belief then belief entails knowledge; as a general point of logic, 'A entails B' does not entail 'B entails A'. (If a person is decapitated, it follows that that person is dead; but it does not follow from the fact that a person is dead that that person was decapitated; he or she could have drowned, for example.) I made belief, using the word to mean 'holding something to be true', a part of a definition of knowledge (since knowledge entails holding something to be true), along with the requirement that the object of knowledge must actually be true. This argument is of the basic form 'A and B, therefore A' (I am alive and I am human; therefore I am alive); as I noted, there may be additional criteria defining knowledge, but that fact does not invalidate the above.
You say that there are mulitiple ways to hold something to be true: that 'knowledge is based on fact, and belief is based on faith'. Elsewhere, you seem to require that knowledge be justified.
Regarding the issue of justification, there is a problem of vicious regress. Suppose that you wish to know whether some proposition x is true or false. You need to justify it. To do that, you need to know what would count as justification of x. To know that, you need to know what would count as a justification of what you hypothesise to be a justification of x; and so on ad infinitum. At some point you have to accept your basic assumptions (particularly those that can't be empirically tested because they concern the nature of the entire universe: e.g. that solipsism is false; that the future will resemble the past) as reasonable -- or, to use your own words, 'unbelievably obvious'. (Incidentally, if the above argument is true, then it is impossible to know whether it is. At least, I think that's the case. Or do I think that?)
Accordingly, the scientific method involves formulating theories and then observing data to see to what extent the theories describe what the universe actually does. An item of scientific knowledge is the knowledge that the most precise and accurate measurements that have hitherto been obtained are consistent with a given set of theoretical ideas and their predictions. For a long time the most precise and accurate measurements available were coincidental with Newtonian physics; then some observations were made that were not, and Relativity Theory and Quantum Theory came along, and someday they may be supplanted by a Theory of Everything. Suppose there were such a theory, which could, at least in theory, predict everything, its predictions always coinciding with observations. There would be two possibilities. (1) The theory completely and correctly describes the way in which the universe works. (2) The universe actually works in a quite different way, but coincidentally the theory and the actual workings of the universe produce identical results. (Isotopic decay appearing to be random, but actually being predetermined, etc.) Observations would justify the theory only insofar as they would fail to disprove it, and show that its predictions were successful.
So, regarding your knowledge/truth theory: how do you know whether it's true?
Remove the justification criterion, though, and you're left with my original point: that knowledge is based on fact by virtue of the objects thereof being true. It is an act of faith to assume that any proposed method of justification will produce knowledge; but that assumption is not necessarily irrational. Either gravity will function tomorrow or it will not; I have no way of knowing for certain (since the argument that the future will resemble the past because it has always done so before is circular), but my desire to live some sort of live leads me to choose to act in accordance with one hypothesis, and so I follow my 'habit' or 'custom' (David Hume's terminology) in believing, as an act of faith, that gravity will function tomorrow.
Regarding the 'astounding amount of effort and concentration', I'm not sure I believe you -- whatever I mean by that.
easyjacksn Posted Jan 22, 2004
I don’t understand the point you are trying to make with the statement, “You say that there are mulitiple ways to hold something to be true: that 'knowledge is based on fact, and belief is based on faith'. Elsewhere, you seem to require that knowledge be justified.” The justification for knowledge IS facts or, in some rare cases, logic (Cogito Ergo Sum, and Special Relativity are probably the two best known cases of knowledge gleaned from pure logic). Now, facts might not be 100%, but we have to assume at some point that they are as close to 100% as we will ever come because they are based on scientific (or equivalent) practices that are verifiable and reproducible. Belief/faith on the other hand is definitely NOT based on anything verifiable and should not be compared to knowledge simply because both are inherently uncertain. There is a clear and definable difference between knowledge and belief. I haven't read much Hume (I'm sure my lack of theory used in this discussion betrays me for the uneducated wanna-be thinker that I am). However, I do know that as far as belief goes, his remark, "Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion." sums it up quite nicely.
That being said, I've found that most (if not all) philosophical discussions end up eventually being funneled into the area of a handful of fundamental logical questions. Unfortunately, despite my desire to avoid it, we seem to have fallen prey to this phenomenon. So, here we are, finally debating the existence of truth. Here goes:
Any philosopher worth his salt understands that one can never be sure of anything other than one's own existence. Does this mean that truth doesn't exist? Are facts imaginary simply because they can never be established as 100% positive? Just because it is beyond the human mind to do anything other than take in information through its 5 senses and make determinations based on probability? Does this mean that we should have no differentiation between fact and knowledge and belief and faith and supposition and justification? Are all of these concepts simply sheep's clothing covering the wolf that is uncertainty? Of course not. All of these concepts exist within the context of human thought. Part of that context is uncertainty. Therefore, all human thought is inherantly uncertain. Facts are uncertain. Knowledge--which is basically a collection of one or more facts that give some sort of insight into something--is uncertain. Even the concept of surety itself, being a human one, is inherently uncertain. All we can do as human beings is realize and accept that everything we will ever "know" will be subject to this uncertainty and try our best to figure things out. By “things” I mean truth. Truth is another thing we will never know for certain. But it does exist. It may be beyond the grasp of humanity. But it is out there. The universe exists. It contains stuff. In order for our senses to take in information for our brains to process, there must be a source of this information. It is the forms that this source takes that is the truth we seek. We conceive of this “stuff” as matter and energy; stars and planets; heat and light; people, places, dogs, cats, girlfriends, and episodes of Dr. Who. Now, many people might claim that any episodes of Dr. Who other than those from the Tom Baker era shouldn’t be counted as “true” Dr. Who episodes; that they should be taken out into the street and lit on fire--and I would tend to agree. But none of this uncertainty should dissuade us from the ongoing search for knowledge; and through knowledge (and the abandonment of belief/faith), maybe someday truth.
RFJS__ - trying to write an unreadable book, finding proofreading tricky Posted Jan 24, 2004
I have never before encountered anyone able to declare his or her uncertainty with such conviction. Your approach to truth and epistemology looks very much like the Logical Positivists' Verification Principle: 'Belief/faith on the other hand is definitely NOT based on anything verifiable and should not be compared to knowledge...'. That said, you haven't gone so far as to claim, as the Logical Positivists did, that unverifiable propositions are meaningless (which constitutes an improvement over them).
Now, firstly, not everyone agrees that science proceeds by verification. Sir Karl Popper held that science progresses by falsification, experimentally _disproving_ theories and hypotheses, and thus narrowing down the range of possibilities. The closest science comes to verification is the demonstration that a theory's predictions are consistent with the most precise and accurate measurements currently available; this is a less solid demonstration than the falsification of a theory by its being shown to be inconsistent with available data. So, Newtonian physics provides a mathematical model sufficiently coincidental with the universe to get rockets into speace, but with some of its basic assumptions actually false, as demonstrated by data that led to the development of new mathematical models.
Since you embrace science, which is based on inductive reasoning (with corrections made when they are found to be necessary), I assume that you expect objects of knowledge to be verifiable _in principle_; that is, that it is enough for you that it is hypothetically possible, for example, to measure the speed of light at every point in the universe in order to verify the proposition that light's speed is everywhere determined by the rules described by Relativity Theory (this proposition being currently held to be true on the basis of mathematical reasoning and limited empirical data), since one can understand what would be involved in such a test, and one would expect specific, measurable results. So an object of knowledge must, if I interpret you correctly, be verifiable, at least in principle, and have some a priori or a posteriori support. You require the supporting evidence to be 'reproducible'.
Now, the problem with verifying faith-based claims is typically one of practicality rather than principle; it is not that the subject matter does not lend itself to empirical support, but that that support is hard to acquire. For some other claims one has to rely on indirect evidence, but that's good enough for science (especially quantum physics): assuming for the sake of the argument that Lazarus did rise from the dead, for the witnesses it would be entirely rational to attribute this supernatural event to the workings of divine power. Of course, we can't perform an experiment involving this sort of event, but we can't perform experiments involving the Big Bang either; we can only extrapolate from observed data, making the assumption that physics is, and always has been, based on unchanging fundamental rules. What I seek to demonstrate here is that faith-based claims need not be unverifiable. That is, verifiability does not distinguish between fact-based and faith-based claims; the basis of faith is not unverifiable (in principle), but unverified (in practice).
Reproducibility is an important part of the scientific method; if a theory states that in a given set of circumstances x will occur, but x occurs in those circumstances only in some experiments, then that indicates a problem with the theory. However, while this is an effective requirement when applied to the measurable predictions of scientific theory, to require that knowledge be verifiable _and_ that the evidence for it be reproducible seems to limit our possible knowledge rather considerably. I should like to think that I 'know' that I wandered around Durham this morning because I remember doing so. However, memory is notoriously fallible. I have walked around Durham many times; perhaps I have confused them with this morning. I struggle to imagine how I could in fact verify that I spent the morning in such a fashion; and as for requiring reproducible evidence... . It seems that knowledge, according to your understanding of it, must be knowledge of general truths or of what is directly observed by the senses. Plato might agree, but I should like to think that, on the basis purely of my (currently quite vivid) memories, I can know that I wandered aroung Durham this morning, and that I knew that this conversation existed on h2g2 even before I logged on and verified the proposition that it does.
There is also the question of objectivity. I suggest that knowledge of one's own conscious mental states is amongst the most reliable knowledge one can have; it would sound incoherent, probably even to a Freudian, to say, 'Although it appears to me that at present I am happy, in reality I may be deeply depressed.' If you accept that some person x knows the contents of his or her own consciousness, though, how can you consistently argue that, if x were to have a religious experience, x ought to dismiss it as unverifiable and unreproducible? (Many things appear true to the insane, of course, or to those who are dreaming; but the assumption that we are neither insane nor dreaming is one that you seem very anxious to make, on a basis that looks to me suspiciously like faith.)
easyjacksn Posted Apr 8, 2004
Hello again, RFJS_. It's been a while since my last post but I'd like to dive right back in if you don't mind.
Firstly, while I do "embrace" science, I certainly realize that it is not the end-all/be-all of reason and knowledge. It is quite fallible and, more often than not, produces results that bring more questions than answers. I also agree that science progresses more through DISproving than proving (although you could say that the former is nothing more than a method for the latter). Now I don't want to make this a conversation about the specifics of individual methods for determining the validity of any given scientific theory, however I think I should briefly comment on your example of validating Special Relativity by measuring the speed of light at every point in the universe. While the constancy of the speed of light is obviously integral to the rationale of Special Relativity (it is, after all, the basis for the concept) all that needs be done to establish the speed of light as a constant is to prove that physics work in exactly the same way at every point in the universe before performing any experiments in which the speed of light is measured. This has been done, to some extent, through observations of the physical interactions of large bodies at great distances as well as the consistency of matter and energy distribution throughout the visible universe and many other observations too numerous to speak of here (not to mention Occam's Razor). The reason I bring this up is that it applies to any and all physical experiments and as such, lends much more credibility to science than you seem to.
I agree with your statement that belief/faith is not verifiable in practice rather than in principle. This is irrelevant as the context of its verifiability (is that a word?), or rather its lack thereof, is not important. The simple fact that it is NOT verifiable, regardless of why, is what makes it irrational to ever hold as true. I'd also like to make it clear that I see no difference between the physical world and the "metaphysical" world. As far as I'm concerned, "metaphysics" is simply another way of saying "the unexplained". Since science makes no claims about the workings of the universe, there is no reason why questions concerning various phenomena usually labeled as "metaphysical" can't eventually be explained by science.
As for knowing whether or not you strolled around Durham this morning, a memory of doing so IS proof that you did. Since there is no real “present” time in any practical sense, ALL of our experiences are actually memories. If I decide to prove the existence of gravity by dropping a ball from my outstretched hand, in the end all I’ll really have is a memory of the ball dropping to the ground (hopefully). If I decide to film the experiment, recording it with a less fallible device than my conscious brain, all I can then do is view the recorded event, which will again constitute nothing more than another memory. Obviously, the further removed from a memory we are, the less concrete that evidence becomes. It still constitutes evidence. At this point, it is left up to the owner of the memories (both of this particular experience, as well as all other experiences said owner has ever had) to use this evidence in a rational way to make a determination about what actually occurred, or what may occur in the future. If we again assume, for the sake of argument, that Lazarus did rise from the dead, for the witnesses to attribute this event to "the workings of divine power" or any other "supernatural" cause would not only be irrational, it would be delusional--for they would assume they posses knowledge of the cause of this event when clearly they do not. A rational person would acknowledge the truth that they simply do not know the cause of this unexplained event. This is the very heart of belief; people being faced with an unexplained or inexplicable event deciding to assign their own ideas of how or why the event occured. It is nothing short of delusion for someone to convince themselves they posses knowledge that in truth they do not. That is the definition of the word.
Initially, after reading the last paragraph of your most recent post, I wanted to comment at length about people's general inability to come to terms with their own emotions and psychological states. I think, though, I will only touch on the fact that most people--especially those that haven't spent time in psychoanalysis or some other form of therapy--don't have the capacity to be aware of what they're feeling or often even what they're thinking. People engage in behaviors on a daily basis that are either founded in instinct or unresolved issues. People often do things, many times things they know will have negative results for themselves or others, without being able to understand the reasons for these behaviors. For you to say, "I suggest that knowledge of one's own conscious mental states is amongst the most reliable knowledge one can have", is entirely incorrect. It is VERY common for people suffering from depression to be almost completely unaware of their condition; which is why that disease has such a high fatality rate. However, I don't think taking the conversation in this direction will be productive. So I'd like to make just one last comment. How does one define a "religious" experience? What makes a "religious" experience different from other experiences? We have thoughts, emotions and five senses. Every experience we have is simply something impacting either our thoughts or our emotions (generally both). Sometimes the cause is external in origin. We see something or hear something that has an impact on our mind. Other times the cause is internal. We spontaneously produce a thought or a feeling from within our own mind. It seems that all experiences fall into one of these two groups. If that is the case, then to define an experience as "religious" is nothing more that an arbitrary decision. The only way to rationally define an experience as "religious" is to prove, or at least support the idea with some kind of evidence, that the origin of the experience is religious in nature.
RFJS__ - trying to write an unreadable book, finding proofreading tricky Posted Apr 25, 2004
Hello again. I've only just got back from an absence of several weeks myself, and with the university term just having started I haven't time to give your arguments the consideration they deserve just now, but I'll try to find time soon.
RFJS__ - trying to write an unreadable book, finding proofreading tricky Posted May 4, 2004
Okay. First off, it is still only in principle that one could establish that the laws of physics are the same everywhere in the universe; there is, indeed, plenty of evidence in that direction, which makes the assumption entirely reasonable, but we've never tested the proposition that, say, there is a one-metre-cubed region of space on the other side of the galaxy in which cold dark matter travels at 1.0000000000000000007 times the speed the physical laws operating elsewhere in the universe would make it.
'lends much more credibility to science than you seem to'
I am playing devil's advocate here, to an extent.
'The simple fact that it is NOT verifiable, regardless of why, is what makes it irrational to ever hold as true.'
No; it can be reasonable to act on hypotheses where one does not have verified knowledge. Take the proposition: 'Interest rates will rise next month'. How do we verify this? We wait for next month. In the meantime, however, we act on the best hypothesis, based on what we know about economics and the Bank of England's previous behaviour.
Now, on an inductive basis we conventionally do not only act in accordance with (what we think are) best hypotheses, but actually get into the habit of believing them to be true. For example, it is possible that my memory has somehow failed me, and 'rhubarb', which I actually believe is the name of a plant, is in fact (in common English usage) the name of a type of metal. Now I could check the dictionary every time I want to refer to the plant in question -- but in fact, despite accepting philosophically the possiblity of my having misremembered the meaning of the word, I really do believe that 'rhubarb' is the name of a plant. Is that irrational? Then irrationality is very widespread. 'To whatever length anyone may push his own speculative principles of scepticism, he must act, I own, and live, and converse like other men.' --David Hume.
I'm not sure what you're referring to as phenomena labelled 'metaphysical'. The mind? Kant's noumena? I think to explore this we'd have to settle on just what metaphysics is; have a look at this quotation from the Metaphysics Research Lab homepage, to begin with:
'Whereas physics is the attempt to discover the laws that govern fundamental concrete objects, metaphysics is the attempt to discover the laws that systematize the fundamental abstract objects presupposed by physical science, such as natural numbers, real numbers, functions, sets and properties, physically possible objects and events, to name just a few. The goal of metaphysics, therefore, is to develop a formal ontology, i.e., a formally precise systematization of these abstract objects.'
'Verifiability' is the noun form -- formed according to standard rules -- of 'verifiable', which I believe is a word.
A suitably strong/vivid memory is acceptable as 'proof', as in the rhubarb example -- but since people in fact do misremember things, memory is not beyond question. I have numerous memories of wandering around Durham on various days; perhaps I have mistakenly linked my memories of some other morning to the concept 'this morning'. Perhaps I'm insane, and have tied memories of different towns, even some memories of seeing towns in photographs or on television, even fevered imaginings, together to create a fictitious 'memory' of Durham, which I have in fact never visited. I don't believe that, of course, but my 'knowledge' of the fact that I really have wandered around Durham is essentially my memories _striking_ me as being veridical, and my tending to act on the assumption that I'm not subject to insane delusions.
'If we again assume, for the sake of argument, that Lazarus did rise from the dead, for the witnesses to attribute this event to "the workings of divine power" or any other "supernatural" cause would not only be irrational, it would be delusional--for they would assume they possess knowledge of the cause of this event when clearly they do not. A rational person would acknowledge the truth that they simply do not know the cause of this unexplained event.'
A scientific person would, but no, the winesses could have acted rationally. Having witnessed a deviation from the normal course of events in the world, with a religious teacher's presence being attended by an event beyond the ability of any familiar power to replicate, they would reason that the raising was consistent with the power to override the normal workings of the world (since being raised from the dead _is_ outside the normal workings of the world); that such a power is consistent with the existence of a deity; that the event they had witnessed and the teachings of the religious teacher regarding God were therefore mutually reinforcing, and that the event lent weight to the proposition that the religious teacher had knowledge of what had happened, and consequently authority; and that this combination of circumstances led to the attribution of the event to the workings of divine power. These thought processes are all rational, irrespective of whether they are correctly used; I agree that the reasoning is invalid, but it is reasoning.
'For you to say, "I suggest that knowledge of one's own conscious mental states is amongst the most reliable knowledge one can have", is entirely incorrect. It is VERY common for people suffering from depression to be almost completely unaware of their condition'
If one is unaware of a mental state, then by definition that mental state is not a conscious one; I quite deliberately used the word 'conscious' here in order to exclude the subconscious. My point is simply that, if I have the conscious experience of happiness, then I _am_ happy; I cannot be mistaken about the fact that I am having those experiences.
I agree that there's a problem with trying to define religious experiences -- indeed, I think there are problems with trying to define a lot of things -- but I think these problems are linguistic and epistemological, rather than direct consequences of the subject matter. Still, if I remember correctly from A-Level the best known critera for religious experiences are those of William James; you might try this:
Ford Posted Aug 21, 2012
How about: I believe that I am certain of nothing . Does that sort the problem?
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